I wrote a long article about how to attract an avoidant ex and many of you have told me you found the series a game changer in terms of how you approach contact, connection and closeness with your avoidant ex.
As always, I have been listening to the questions you ask me both here on the site and in coaching and felt the need to write a little bit more about attachment-avoidance.
Most of us know a dismissive-avoidant. You know, the one who prefers to be “alone” than spend time as a couple and thinks that asking to spend more time together is you being needy, and calling them out on their lack of affection or attention is you being demanding or controlling. The one who breaks up with you just because they don’t feel like being in a relationship (with anybody). The one who always seems to take the break-up “very well”, shows no emotions when breaking up with you and doesn’t care one way or the other whether you want no contact or want to keep the lines of communication open. As far as they are concerned, it doesn’t matter. You want to stay in contact, they’re fine with that. You want no contact, that’s fine too.
The ex who never reaches out or initiates contact and responds hours or even days later acting like it’s no big deal. And when you show anything that resembles “emotions” or ‘feelings” they pull a disappearing act. Yes, that one.
A dismissive-avoidant is only one kind of avoidant. There is another type of attachment-avoidance, known as disorganized attachment or fearful-avoidant, sometimes also called a ambivalent-avoidant.
Who is a fearful-avoidant or ambivalent-avoidant?
I write quite a bit about contact with a fearful-avoidant ex, but unlike dismissive-avoidants where you know that this person does not want you constantly reaching out or telling them how you feel, contact with someone with disorganized attachment is a bit tricky.
They are high on anxiety rating scale which means that they want contact (sometimes a lot of it) and when they don’t hear from you in a while, or contact you and don’t get a response immediately, they become anxious (what does it mean? did I say/do something wrong?). And just like someone with attachment anxiety they may start to aggressively text and seek to get close. It may even look like they are ‘chasing you”.
They are also high on avoidance rating scale which means that when they don’t get the response they expect or it seems like (even ever so slightly) you are pulling away, they will pull away and withdraw from contact. They may respond once in a while (because that high anxiety part of them wants contact) but they will be cautious and seem distant. Very often you find yourself in a cycle of intense contact followed by withdrawal.
I came across an article by written by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. that I thought explains so well how disorganized attachments form. She says, “Children are born with the instinct to seek care from adults; their survival depends on it. They are therefore highly motivated to form an adaptable strategy to get their needs met, even by a far from perfect or unsafe caretaker. A disorganized attachment results when a parents’ behavior is unpredictable, confusing or erratic. The child has no organized strategy that allows them to feel safe and get their needs met without fright and terror”.
She talks about “Stranger Situation” test conducted by attachment expert, psychologist and researcher Dr. Mary Ainsworth.
In the test, parents where told to leave the room and then come back, leave a second time then come back again. The goal of the test was to measure the reunion behaviour on the second reunion.
Dr. Ainsworth found that a child with a secure attachment will get upset when the parent leaves, but when the parent returns, the child will come to the parent for soothing, easily calms down when contact is re-established and continues to play on his or her own.
A child with a disorganized attachment expresses odd or ambivalent behavior toward the parent, (i.e. first running up to them, then immediately pulling away, perhaps even running away from the parent, curling up in a ball or hitting the parent.) The child’s first impulse may be to seek comfort from the parent, but as they get near the parent, they feel fear to be in their proximity, demonstrating their disorganized adaption.
I found the “Strange Situation” test particularly interesting because it measures reunion behaviour and backs what I have observed with clients trying to get back together with an ex with a anxious-avoidant attachment style.
First they seem really happy when you reach out, respond to texts immediately, and even initiate contact. They are engaged: asking questions about your life and sharing information about their lives. You are like, “Hmm this is great. This is easy”. You are getting closer and closer, then fear takes over and they pull away (or do everything to push you away, even act mean, and abusive).
You are left wondering what happened? What did I do wrong? Chances are you did nothing wrong.